Focusing on Upcoming Consequential Fires — Part 1, Cities & Towns

Athena Intelligence
7 min readMay 12, 2024

Instead of relying solely on historical wildfires for insights, Athena focuses on assessing wildfire risk in the future.

Athena’s community-centric prefire tool has been tuned to identify areas where the greatest risk of consequential damage is anticipated. Through the Voice of the Acre®, cities and towns receive wildfire risk assessments based on a comprehensive analysis of all factors influencing wildfires. These maps provided by Athena for Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs) reveal the convergence of high-risk areas, potential human impact, and property losses.

Vail Colorado Athena Wildfire Risk Profile (bintel.io)

Athena’s geospatial data pools is best facilitated through an online platform. These resources, often misunderstood as mere “maps,” go beyond traditional cartography. Instead, they serve as repositories of geospatial data, offering a wealth of information for analysis and interpretation. Athena’s strength lies in its fusion of geospatial analysis, seamlessly integrating variables into a unified framework and the focus on where wildfires will have the greatest impact to human communities.

Wildfire risk is categorized into six classes, each represented by a different color. This article is image heavy as it seeks to explain the information Athena Intelligence provides to a town, a county and a state.

Originally tailored for the property insurance sector, each color corresponds to a precise wildfire risk probability. Regardless of the frequency or location of wildfires, by year-end, 50% or more of these incidents will have transpired in the dark red/Highest Risk zones. Moreover, 65% or more of all fire damage will be concentrated in the High or Highest risk areas.

Wildfire behavior is influenced by a multitude of factors, and their correlation varies regionally. For instance, in Northern California, wildfires are often fueled by tall trees and dense canopies, whereas in Southern California, dry vegetation and strong winds play a more significant role.

Athena’s model intricately crafts conditional profiles that encompass all factors influencing wildfires within a multi-mile radius of a designated location (a 30 sq meter pixel). These conditional profiles are grouped into cohorts, with the historical wildfire burn experience of members within or near a cohort shaping the probabilities for all members within the bioregion.

These conditional profiles, which show the requisite conditions for wildfires to occur, constitute one layer of data provided for a CWPP. Additionally, the probabilities and the combination of the two ratings are provided on a map. As land conditions evolve over time, the cohort to which a particular location belongs can shift. This conditional, geospatial profiling ensures a nuanced understanding of wildfire risk, encompassing mitigation efforts, burn scars, and the impact of climate change.

Athena is a prefire data vendor, offering wildfire risk insights to various entities such as communities, utilities, financial services companies, government agencies, and more. This article specifically highlights products tailored for cities, using Vail, a city in Colorado, as an illustrative example.

Vail City Limits, Combined Wildfire Risk Profile

The combination of conditional profiles and the probabilities of a location being inside a wildfire’s perimeter is the single best tool for anticipating future fires. The above image shows the combined wildfire risk conditions, for all of 2024, within Vail’s city limits.

And yet, within the city limits of Vail, there are areas where a fire is unlikely to burn, where there is a low probability of the location being inside a wildfire’s footprint. If you are inside the city when a wildfire occurs, the green areas are likely to include the best places to shelter in place.

Vail City Limits, Probability Wildfire Risk Profile

Green locations can burn, but it is unlikely. Using the Bintel Living CWPP platform, the picture below shows, through colors, the conditional profiles where a wildfire could happen. The shapes are based on the WUI block boundaries.

Vail City Limits, Conditional Profile Wildfire Risk Vail CO Athena Wildfire Risk Profile (bintel.io)

Using the same Voice of the Acre® profiling algorithm, each community’s CWPP, also includes a 5-mile buffer around the incorporated area.

Combined Conditions & Probability, surrounding the Vail City Limits
Wildfire Probability, surrounding the Vail City Limits
Wildfire Risk Conditional Profiles, surrounding the Vail City Limits

Athena’s strength lies in the computational capabilities of its data. Every analysis conducted is both explainable and traceable back to scientifically derived, research-driven data. By leveraging the power of computers to comprehend the complexity of wildfire behavior, Athena can precisely estimate future wildfire perimeters and offer probabilistic predictions at both landscape and individual property scales.

To put Vail’s data into context, here is the breakdown of 2024 wildfire risk for the entire state of Colorado:

Learn more, see other states and look at the detail of the data here: Voice of the Acre Historical Burn Profiles | Tableau Public

For those of you reading this on a small screen, for Colorado, 4.7% of the land is ranked as Low Risk. Moderate Risk (Yellow) is 19.8%, Elevated Risk (Orange) is 17.8%, High Risk is 28.3% and Very High risk is 29.3%. You can visit our public tableau site and learn more about the numbers and see other states.

But you can eyeball the pie chart above and see that about 60% of the land of Colorado is High Risk or Very High Risk. Going back up to an earlier map in this article, you can eyeball the buffered area around Vail and guess than about 1/4 of the land is red. Vail still has risk, with lots of moderate area around the city, but less risk than the entire state of Colorado.

Same chart, but focusing on the High and Very High Wildfire Risk in Colorado

You might assume that the primary focus should be on risk reduction in all the High Risk (Red) areas, constituting 57.6% of the land. However, the breakdown of conditional profiles in the lower right box reveals that 66.5% of the land categorized as high risk or very high risk, when combined, is uninhabited. While significant in the context of megafires, these areas aren’t necessarily the initial priority for communities. Instead, the focus of mitigation plans typically center on mitigating risks to people, property, and economic impact first, rather than the larger uninhabited regions.

As the subtitle of this article suggests, Athena’s model has been optimized to focus on identifying areas where wildfires are likely to have significant consequences. In Colorado, these areas, which we term Primary Inhabited areas, represent regions where wildfires pose the greatest risk to people, property, and communities. Notably, in Colorado, Primary Inhabited regions do not include any areas categorized as Very High Risk.

Wildfire Risk for 2024, Colorado, Primary Inhabited

The box on the lower right makes a compelling case for taking the time to get a nuanced understanding of where wildfire risk will impact a community. The box shows two aspects of the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).

The WUI has multiple attributes: The population density, the nature of the vegetation and the distance from the wildland. The colors on the map allow Athena to share multidimensional nuance, but the box in the lower right focuses on two aspects of the WUI. Down the vertical axis is population density, and across the top of the table is the WUI description of vegetation: No Veg, Veg, Intermix and Interface.

Interface is when there is a clear edge, like a city park and Intermix is an area where there are many trees near structures. Intermix has fewer trees, but more wildfire risk. The picture below makes this clear …

Learn more about Housing Density and Intermix vs Interface here: https://medium.com/@athenaintelligence/housing-density-76a47341844d

For readers with small screens, the box on the lower right gives the following information:

No Veg/Low Population Density 0.3% Risk of Wildfire

Veg/Low Population Density 69.3% Risk of Wildfire

Intermix/Medium Population Density 3.0% Risk of Wildfire

Intermix/Low Population Density 24.6% Risk of Wildfire

Interface/Medium Population Density 0.3% Risk of Wildfire

Interface/Low Population Density 2.5% Risk of Wildfire

In other words, specific neighborhoods face a high likelihood of being affected by wildfires. These areas typically feature low population density and abundant vegetation, rendering them particularly vulnerable.

This article serves as the first installment of a two-part series delving into Athena’s maps within the context of CWPPs, with a particular emphasis on cities and towns. The subsequent article will explore Athena’s geospatial information for counties encompassing multiple census-defined areas.

Athena Intelligence is a data vendor with a geospatial, conditional, profiling tool that pulls together vast amounts of disaggregated wildfire and environmental data to generate spatial intelligence, resulting in a digital fingerprint of wildfire risk. (athenaintel.io)

Clients include communities, power companies, insurance and financial services — with Athena’s geospatial intelligence incorporated into CWPPs, wildfire mitigation plans (WMP) and public safety power shutoffs, property underwriting and portfolio risk optimization.

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Athena Intelligence

Athena Intelligence weaves vast amounts of disaggregated environmental data. Drop us a line (Info@Project-Athena.com), or visit www.athenaintel.io